Nightchild (2001) by James Barclay is the third novel of Chronicles of the Raven, the fantasy series about an independent mercenary group fighting with an honourable code. The books about the Raven are fairly standalone, having their own beginning and ending, but it is best to read them in order. I’ve read the previous books quite some time ago, mostly because Barclay isn’t that good a writer to keep on going. I will elaborate about that later in my review.
Nightchild takes place some six years after the events of the second novel, Noonshade. The Raven have virtually disbanded, it’s members taken up a more regular life. When one of them gets threatened they slowly join together again to protect her from harm. The story is fairly straightforward. The Raven novels follow more or less standard fantasy quest plotlines, although Barclay puts in some twists. These are however never not that remarkable. If you have read the previous books you sort of expect them to happen. An important theme in the book is the Raven, the special group where the individuals become stronger working together. To me it felt more like Barclay is hyping the Raven himself, but somehow it never feels convincing. They are presented as the best, while Barclay has a habit of depicting their weaknesses and even their strengths do not seem to play out that well. It’s not like such things don’t occur among other groups, but with the hyping it feels out of tone.
So far plot and characters. They are pretty standard and straightforward. These is a quite standard fantasy story. The only special elements are dragons and elves. Magic is quite commonplace and no less than 4 magic organisations exist on the continent most of the story takes place. Continent is also a big word, because from the distances travelled the continent is actually a big island and the world is quite small-scaled. There are no big nations, mostly city-states and armies are usually sized in the hundreds. In such an environment, 4 magic organisations with hundreds of members feels quite out of balance. The magic system itself seems fairly limited. The organisations mostly use similar spells and not many. Some other spells are mentioned but those seem to be too time-consuming to be of general use. This makes the magic action rather repetitive.
Barclay’s writing style is decent. It isn’t as thrilling or exciting as other writers like Jim Butcher or Steven Erikson, whose books are real page-turners, but it’s better than average. He gives all his characters attention, but they never get real depth. They typically have certain traits but it doesn’t get much beyond it. As I have also read one of his recent series, the Ascendants of Estorea, the books of the Raven clearly are written by a less experienced writer who still lacks quality on certain parts. This also shows in the standard fantasy formats he follows. The only other race are the elves, but they seem rather bland and fairly human.
I cannot say this book is very recommendable. It is a decent read when you don’t have much else to read and you don’t want real fantasy pulp but decent standard fantasy. I will continue with the next books of the Raven, but it may take some time before I will have finished them all. After the first two books I lost interest as I needed something better and the style and plots of the books had become tedious.